Protestant denominations generally recognize only two sacraments. These are worship practices during which the Holy Spirit is thought to be present in a special way.
Sanctification is a journey along the road to holiness. The journey begins with regeneration or initial sanctification which is the change God works in the soul when He brings it to life, when He raises it from the death of sin to a life of pursuing righteousness. The sacrament of baptism is a symbolic acceptance of spiritual regeneration. As we use water to purify our physical body, so, in its baptismal use, it signifies a purification of our soul through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, if baptism is by immersion, it can be viewed as a watery grave for sin and a symbolic resurrection to a life of righteousness. Jesus said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” (John 3:5)
Baptism is a sign of the moral purification wrought by the Holy Spirit. This concept is re-emphasized in Titus:
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)
Baptism does not cause regeneration but it is symbolic of regeneration.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
Scripture furnishes the best explanation for the institution of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament:
- And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Mat 26:26-28 cf Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20)
- For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke, it and said, This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In the same way He took the cup also, after supper saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26)
The true doctrine of the supper lies in the meaning of these words. Unfortunately, interpretations differ widely. For example, consider the three most common interpretations of, This is My body.
- The sanctified element of bread is actually the natural substance of the body of Jesus Christ by reason of the coexistence of the element of bread with the immanent body of Christ (Lutheran).
- During the Lord’s Supper, the substance of the bread is replaced by the substance of the body of Jesus Christ (Roman Catholic - Transubstantiation).
- The bread is holy food which causes a mystical event whereby Jesus Christ gives the participant actual possession of all such saving grace as His sacrificed body can yield (Protestant)
The Wesleyan/Arminian position can be summarized as:
The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the supper is faith.
A similar analysis can be made regarding the blood of Christ during the Lord’s Supper.
Only God can institute a truly religious sacrament. The Protestant church recognizes only Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. The Roman Catholic church recognizes five additional sacraments: confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony and extreme unction. Protestants contend Scripture does not support the designation of these five events as sacraments.